A Famine Hit Torricella in 1623

By Domenico Pettinella

During a general parliament held on 30th November 1698, the Chamberlain1, the two Regents2 and the citizens of the Università3 (Municipality) of Torricella, convinced that controversies and lawsuits do not bring any advantage either to the Masters or to the Vassals, decided to propose to their Baron Celaia4, Duke of Canosa5, a consensual settlement for the various lawsuits that had lasted for so many years and which had kept them at loggerheads with each other. The citizens especially wanted a friendly reconciliation for the unresolved lawsuits, maintaining that these lawsuits inexorably caused great expense, misery, suffering, resentment, hate and serious damage to everyone collectively and they made this proposal to honour both San Giacomo (Saint James) their protector and the King. The citizens begged to put the proposal "as real true sons" to their Baron and Master, who accepted it. But what were the problems really that brought the Università to such a litigious situation with the Baron, and that made him unable, so to speak, to correct the accounts?

Torricella had suffered a famine in 1623 with serious consequences for a further 80 years; as for everyone in the South of the Kingdom6, its effects were felt again during the popular revolt led by Masianello7 in 1647, which above all weakened Baronial power – which actually was a positive feature (for the citizens); in terms of economic crisis it fuelled the social and demographic disorder caused by the plague of 16568.

The oldest wrong concerned the lawsuit pending in Naples9, which had been referred for the judge’s decision. It involved the request for restitution of 3,200 ducats10, advanced to the Università by various heirs of the ruling Di Grazia family, who had lent 800 ducats in 1623 – which, with interest, rose to 3,200 by 1698; it had been lent to three people from Torricella, who, at the time were serving as Regents of the Università. The loan had been given to purchase grain to relieve the hunger of the citizens of Torricella. Some of the Di Grazia heirs included the Monastery of Carmine11 at Venafro12 and the Baron of Torricella. The Università resisted the request, saying that the loan had been a personal contract with the three administrators; that the citizens had not derived any benefit from it; that the contract did not exist, since the Università had only become aware of the debt in 1647; that there had not been a royal assent "reggio assenso" for the contract as proscribed according to the regulations; that the Università could not pay a debt contracted by three citizens, maintaining that the whole question had been studded with "bad faith". The underwritten agreement subdivided into 14 points, recognised that the Università and the citizens had the right to cut the grass and to cut and gather wood from the feudal forests on payment of 200 ducats a year. Regarding wood there was an express prohibition against indiscriminate cutting of white oak13 and turkey oak14 "cerqui e cerri" (oaks15); with various fines related to the damage caused by those ignoring the prohibition, against whom, however, the Baron’s Guards were not allowed to use violence, as they had done in the past. The right for citizens to make hoops for barrels and stakes for vines in the woods was recognised, so long as only small amounts were cut and without damaging the plants (trees). The ancient right to pasture the cows on a quarter of the feud of Monte Moresco16 was reaffirmed, not only in the acorn season, but even when there were no acorns. Baron Celaia agreed to pay a sum corresponding to the amount of grass eaten by his herds, which had been introduced into the rented feuds and into the domains (state property) of the Università, to compensate for the loss of earnings that the Università thus was unable to make from sales of any grass that was in excess of that needed for the citizens’ animals. The Baron restored to the Università the building called "Paleaturo" illegally occupied although on his grounds and he renounced the request for 50 ducats a year for the use of water by the mills, in consideration of the fact that the water did not arise (spring) on feudal lands nor even did it cross them. The Università replied to this renouncement, as was ancient custom, by giving the Baron a "salma" (an ancient weight of between 100-400 Kilogram) of grain each year.

The Baron agreed to pay the "Bonatenanza"17 of the property owned by his Chamber (the "bonatenanza" was a hypothesis that depended on the foundation goods fully owned by feudal families, but not subject to and free from feudal obligations). The Università on the one hand renounced repayments of sums owed by the Baron for any title over the past years and on the other hand agreed to pay, together with all the citizens, the sum of 50 ducats a year to the Baronial Chamber for the master writer, which was the explicit job of a functionary of the written deeds office and included safekeeping of judicial acts. In past times this functionary also carried out judicial work, as a substitute for the Judge.

Maybe the Baron consented to the agreement because he was aware that resistance would have been impossible, since baronial power, previously unquestioned, had been reduced and diminished after the Masaniello uprising.see 5 The agreement the Università and the Citizens had wanted resolved problems that had lasted for many years and had caused the citizens much suffering, problems which became ever more serious for everyone collectively, with the renewed increase in population. The consensual agreement and its procedural measures stressed the fact that in reality the Università was on a different social, cultural and political plane to the Commune. It represented a community whose citizens were all equals (this was different from the Communes of the centre-north of Italy who were vassals of their Baron-Master). The document helps us to reconstruct the agricultural landscape, and also to reconstruct economic activities, including those appertaining to the Aventine River18, such as millers, dye-workers, fullers and purgers (healers), as mentioned by L. Giustiniani19 in his "Annotated Geographical Dictionary of the Kingdom of Naples". The document shows us parts of the economic and social aspects of the history of Torricellan society during the seventeenth Century. It is as if it were a story telling us about the desires, the psychology, the needs, the expectations of Torricellan citizens in their engagement with constructing a less difficult life for themselves, sustained in reaching that objective not only by economic and social reasons, but also for intellectual and practical motives.

The agreement is a story of civilisation, in that it forms a link and conditions the economic, material and social needs of the citizen-vassals with the manner of being and the manifestation of baronial power as it was then in that feudal era. The citizens of Torricella, knowing how to gather that which was offered to them by that certain moment in history, demonstrated they could break from the past and create better lives for themselves.

Translator's footnotes:

1Camerlengo – Chamberlain - The title Camerlengo (Italian for "Chamberlain") refers to an official who is secretary-treasurer of the "court", with responsibility for its financial matters. The Low Latin word camera (chamber) means the treasure of the prince, monastery, etc.; also in general the royal treasury (fiscus), the temporal administration of a monastery. The term camerarius was, therefore, very frequently equivalent to civil treasurer, and in the case of monasteries meant the monk charged with the administration of the monastic property.

Camerlengo - The Papal Chamberlain; the cardinal who presides over the Pope's household. He has at times possessed great power. [Italian camerlengo akin to Old French chamberlenc = chamberlain.]

This is also the sense of the Italian term camerlengo, which title is still held by certain papal officials in Rome - by the three ecclesiastics who manage the Pope's secular affairs, (1) The Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, (2) the Camerlengo of the Sacred College of Cardinals and (3) the Camerlengo of the Roman Clergy; a Camerlengo may be one of various lesser dignitaries.

The Chamberlain of the Sacred College of Cardinals administers all fees and revenues belonging to the College and celebrates the requiem Mass for a deceased cardinal. Other Camerlengos - other chamberlains of the Papal court have duties about the Papal quarters, although this title is usually given as an honorary award. These Camerlengos may be clergymen or laymen.

2Reggitori - Rulers, Regents. A person who holds the position of regent

3Università – Universitas = University = Municipality

The term Universitas, or University, which in time came to be applied to associations of masters and apprentices in study, was originally a general Roman legal term, practically equivalent to our modern word Corporation, or Town Council.

4Celaia (Celaya) – family name of the Baron, Duke of Canosa, who was the feudal Lord and Master, "owner" of the land belonging to Torricella in the seventeenth Century; he was an oppressor of the poor, hardworking citizens

5Canosa – town in Apulia, S Italy, on the Ofanto River, between Bari and Foggia. It is a commercial and agricultural centre. The city flourished under the Romans and was noted for its wool and its fine vases, many of which have been unearthed in nearby tombs (3d and 4th cent. BC). The Romans fled to Canusium after their disastrous defeat by Hannibal at nearby Cannae (216 BC). The city was destroyed by the Arabs in the 9th century but was resettled by the Normans in the 11th cent.

6Kingdom – refers to the Kingdom of Naples, which ruled over the central south region of Italy. This former state, occupying the Italian peninsula south of the former Papal States, comprised roughly the present regions of Campania, Abruzzo, Molise, Basilicata, Apulia and Calabria. Naples was the capital.

The Treaties of Blois (1504–5) gave Naples and Sicily to Spain, which for two centuries ruled the two kingdoms through viceroys—one at Palermo, one at Naples. Under Spain, S Italy became one of the most backward and exploited areas in Europe. There was misgovernment by the Spanish and fiscal oppression by the bishops. Heavy taxation (from which the nobility and clergy were exempt) filled the Spanish coffers but subjected the local population to torment and misery; agriculture suffered because huge estates were accumulated by quarrelling Italian and Spanish nobles and also by the church; famines were almost chronic; disease, superstition, and ignorance flourished.

A popular revolt in Naples against these conditions, led by Masaniello, was crushed in 1647; in other parts of the Kingdom, including Abruzzo, citizens followed Masaniello’s example and took part in uprisings against the Bishop-Barons.

7Masaniello - 1620?–1647 - Neapolitan revolutionist, whose original name was Tommaso Aniello. A fisherman, he led a revolt of the lower classes, burdened by high taxes, against the Spanish rulers of Naples. Tumults broke out in 1647 and soon became so serious that the Spanish viceroy came to terms with Masaniello, promised the reforms demanded, and recognized him as captain general. Demented by his sudden success (possibly due to being poisoned by the Viceroy), Masaniello was killed shortly afterward, either by agents of the Spanish Viceroy or by his own disillusioned supporters. The revolution was soon repressed. For fuller details see :- http://www.fact-index.com/m/ma/masaniello.html

8Plague – 1656 in Italy - Plague in Naples spreads to Sardinia and Rome - 400,000 die. Nash

Between 1600-1699 there were 18 epidemics of plague in Europe.

Plague was a dreaded disease. One of the most destructive of all recorded epidemics raged in Naples in 1656; it is said to have carried off 300,000 persons in the space of five months. It passed to Rome, but there it was much less fatal, making 14,000 victims only, a result attributed by some to the precautions and sanitary measures introduced by Cardinal Gastaldi, whose work, a splendid folio, written on this occasion (Tractatus de avertenda et profliganda peste , politicolegalis, Bologna, 1684) is historically one of the most important on the subject of quarantine. Genoa lost 60,000 inhabitants from the same epidemic, but Tuscany remained untouched. The comparatively limited spread of this frightful epidemic in Italy at this time is a most noteworthy fact.

Bubonic Plague - Also known as the Black Death or the Black Plague. Bubonic plague is caused by the bacillus, Yersinia pestis. This is primarily a zoonotic (animal) disease that afflicts rodents, smaller animals such as cats, and even birds. Humans can be infected if they are bitten by fleas which have previously feasted on infected animals. Humans can also contract the plague by handling infected animals, or directly from a human who has the pulmonary form of plague. It invades the host’s lymphatic system and causes swelling of the lymph glands. Bubonic is the name given to types of plague that are transmitted by infected fleas as they feed on open wounds in the skin. Pneumonic is transferred by person to person through methods such as sneezing with no insect intermediary needed.

Yersinia pestis is still endemic the world over, and according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, on average 1,000 - 3,000 people contract bubonic plague each year, of which, 10-15 % of these cases occur in the United States. Thanks to modern antibiotics, it is now a treatable disease.
During the middle ages, however, there were no treatments, and for some reason, the waves of plague that swept Europe starting in 1348 where especially virulent. The first wave, which started in 1348, is thought to have originated in the Far East. It is known that it arrived in Europe from the Orient on trading ships, along with trade goods. This first wave killed upwards of half the population of Europe. Death by plague is agonizing, and ugly. Worse, during major epidemics, it was difficult, if not impossible, to bury all the dead in a timely manner, and the plethora of rotting corpses bred more diseases which decimated an already weakened population. In the years that followed the first major epidemic, hardly a generation escaped the deathly grip of the plague. The last major plague epidemic in Europe petered out in the late 1600's. However, it has never gone away, and the possibility still exists that it may, once again, turn into a deadly scourge.

9Naples – capital city of the Kingdom to which Torricella belonged

10Ducats - formerly a coin of various European countries either of gold or silver

[Middle English, from Old French, from Old Italian ducato, from Medieval Latin ductus, duchy (a word used on one of the early ducats].

Ducat - from dux leader or commander; a coin struck in the dominions of a duke.
Note: The gold ducat is generally of the value of nine shillings and four pence sterling, or somewhat more than two dollars. The silver ducat is of about half this value.

11Monastery of Carmine - The monastery was built with funds contributed by benefactors and the local council in 1573. Building work began in 1538, at the request and expense of the people and with the consent of Archbishop Sipontino, Cardinal Giovanni Maria of Monte San Sabino, and Pope Julius III.
The land, which included a cottage and a well, was a donation from Orazio Antonio Landi. The friars came into possession of the land in 1540 and bore witness to God by leading holy lives and receiving divine assistance in return.

Camillo De Lellis was staying there on 1 February 1575 when he decided to change his life following a long conversation with Padre Angelo, the monastery's Father Superior.

12Venafro – Town in Province of Isernia, Molise - Italy

A well-known Samnite and then Roman town, thanks to its key position on the border with Campania, Abruzzo and Lazio it was always a centre where trades, cultures and arts could meet and exchange experiences. After the fall of the Roman empire, it became part of the Lombard dukedom of Benevento

13Quercus (synonym Lepidobalanus), the white oaks of Europe, Asia and North America. Styles short; acorns mature in 6 months, sweet or slightly bitter, inside of acorn shell hairless. Leaves mostly lack a bristle on lobe tips, which are usually rounded

14Cerris, the Turkey oak and its relatives of Europe and Asia. Styles long; acorns mature in 18 months, very bitter, inside of acorn shell hairless. Leaves typically have sharp lobe tips, with bristles at the lobe tip. European turkey oak - large deciduous tree of central and southern Europe and Asia Minor having oblong-lanceolate leaves with spiked lobes. Quercus cerris, turkey oak Cerris (Bot.) A species of oak (Quercus cerris) native in the Orient and southern Europe; - called also bitter oak and Turkey oak.

Subgenus Quercus. Typical oaks. Widespread; acorns not tightly clustered, with scales on acorn cup arranged in spirals. oak tree, oak - a deciduous tree of the genus Quercus; has acorns and lobed leaves.

16Monte Moresco - On the summit of Monte Moresco there are overhangs of megalithic Samnite walls, suggesting the memory of ancient flights of men during periods of war, flocks of sheep still wander towards the nearby "feathers" of Pennadomo’s scenic limestone slices that form solemn compact peaks.

17Bonatenenza – a tax; people had to declare the land they owned to calculate how much tax to pay.

18Aventine River - The AVENTINO River rises high up in the south-eastern part of the Majella mountains with its source near Palena. It is a fast-running torrent, with grade 2-3 rapids all year, and it enters the waters of the Sangro as a tributary from the left, flowing out to the Adriatic Sea near Torino di Sangro. It is one of the few Italian rivers that are uncontaminated and unspoiled, despite the presence of hydroelectric power stations.

19Lorenzo Giustiniani - great geographer of the Bourbon reign - described the great mountain (Majella) and its towns and villages. Wrote "An annotated geographical dictionary of the Kingdom of Naples" in 13 volumes, published between 1797 and 1805.

© Amici di Torricella

Translation courtesy of Dr. Marion Apley Porreca

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